If your child’s father has relocated to another state, you could wind up with a child custody nightmare on your hands, especially if you send your child to visit him without an established custody order in place.
Here’s what happens: you think things are okay, and he’s not really fighting for custody. He asks to see the child for a few weeks, and you oblige. After all, it’s important for a child to have a relationship with his father, right? But dad doesn’t return the child when he says he will and, before you know it, he’s filed for custody—and he’s filed in his new state.
Each state has different laws, but usually there’s some sort of residency requirement (for the child) before a petition can be filed. Still, you’ll have to defend against the initial petition in the other state’s court—meaning you’ll have to hire an attorney (probably just based on the information you can find on the internet, since you can’t just go there in person all the time), and then go there to at least try to get the case dismissed.
Even though you may think, at the beginning, that you don’t need a custody order because you and your child’s father can get along and cooperate for the sake of the child, you really do need to insist on getting a custody order in place.
Most of the hysterical, after hours calls I receive from clients are about children not being returned on time (or threats to not return the children on time). If you’ve got a specific custody order in place, then he can’t keep the kids over—you’ve got something to enforce to bring the children home. But, without a custody order, one parent isn’t any different than the other so, even though you expected the children back, he’s not technically doing anything wrong.
My advice to you, particularly if your child’s father has relocated out of state, is to get a custody order in place. If the two of you can agree about custody and visitation, that’s great—but get it in writing. If you can’t agree, you’ll have to file something with your local court and, if he’s out of state, let him bear the responsibility of coming back to litigate.